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September 14, 2020 - a message from Kevin C. Garinger, Director of Education
September 14, 2020
“I just want people to realize that anything’s possible if you try; dreams are possible if you try.” – Terry Fox
Well Horizon, what a “try” you have put forward. And what a great first week we have had! I know it saddens all of us that 440 children in Horizon have yet to come back to our school buildings and that many will be required to remain away for much longer than these last six months. But I also rejoice in the understanding that nearly 5900 students have been able to walk through our doors again and each of us has to be grateful for that. Approximately 250 of the 450 are learning from home so they are very much connected to staff within our system. Nearly 150 more are waiting for bussing opportunities in an area within our system. We hope to support one of our partners in education and should have that resolved in the very near future. I do want to thank you for your support, patience, excitement, and positivity these first weeks back. You have done so while making significant changes to the routines and procedures within your classrooms and in your hallways and schoolyards. We have gone through a great deal of PPE in these first four days and will go through a great deal more this next week as we strengthen the already healthy practices we have in place. One such change that we hope to implement is the use of masks from classrooms to recess for our students in grades 4 to 6 (or 4 to 8 in some cases). Principals have been instructed that we will continue to use disposable masks for this practice for the upcoming week and we may then be able to relax this practice, pending a continued smooth transition. As always, we continue to evolve these and all of our processes and in saying that, I have to say that I am very proud of our transition back to classrooms. You made this possible, Horizon. The depths of my gratitude for our staff cannot be overstated.
I had a number of meetings throughout the past week, planning, coordinating, and sharing information with staff and Education sector partners. It seems this has become my life these last six months…listening for changes to provincial plans that have a direct impact on what we do within our system. I know this can be frustrating for everyone. I have had parents reach out and share their displeasure at having to change our plans from having a live video connection to their children’s classrooms for short-term experiences. I certainly take responsibility for this change as I am not willing to put staff and students in the middle of any sort of challenge related to whether live streaming is an acceptable practice. I have and will always believe in the professionalism of teachers and still believe strongly that things would have gone very well. But changing this direction meant a relatively seamless shift in our plan and has resulted in a win-win for most everyone. I am aware that it has created some challenges for parents who expected to have their children join in a classroom with their friends and with the staff they already know. Of course, we remain somewhat perplexed as our efforts to ensure small class sizes has resulted in many classrooms with 16 or fewer children in them. In some classrooms where children have yet to return, we have as few as 2 children attending, so we are still working with these schools in order to find a balance recognizing that things are likely to improve quickly in the next week. With the addition of over 14 FTE teachers and additional support staff, we will most assuredly have the second-lowest pupil-teacher ratio (PTR) in the province of Saskatchewan. That said, if and when all children can return to our bricks and mortar schools, I know our Learning From Home (LFH) teachers will have done a great job to keep these students caught up with those in the classroom and will have built an equally strong foundation of relationship through an online environment.
Speaking of our new Learning from Home (LFH) teachers, they joined us at central office for professional development before they began connecting with LFH students and families at the beginning of the week. We are very excited to have these educators in these new roles, supporting students, most of whom have little choice but to learn away from the classroom setting. Having family members or themselves who are immunocompromised required that parents make the difficult decision to keep their children home but I know they will get a tremendous experience that will allow engagement from their virtual teacher on a daily basis. I want to thank Assistant Superintendent, Katherine Oviatt and her team for the outstanding leadership they provided during the PD opportunity. It was truly all-hands-on-deck and the teachers came away with many practical strategies and instructional and assessment practices to support their newest group of students.
On Wednesday, I joined our Board Chair, Jim Hack, Vice-Chair, Linda Mattock, and members of my staff for our Board agenda meeting to plan for the Regular Board Meeting happening on September 17. Our conversations ahead of the meeting help us to put forward the necessary information and discussions in an efficient way once we have all of our Trustees together for the full Board meeting. I think one of the biggest items of discussion will be focused on those families who have chosen to learn from home in a different school division or with some other entity. Already we have seen 11 students who chose to attend in a different district return to Horizon. I hope we can continue to have our children and families return to us in the upcoming weeks as I know our plan for their learning is as strong and effective as any in the province.
On Thursday, I joined the Saskatchewan League of Educational Administrators, Directors, and Superintendents (LEADS) for a teleconference that took place throughout most of the day. I also joined the Corporate Services Team subcommittee of the provincial Response Planning Team who have been leading the province’s pandemic planning for Education. These conversations with my provincial counterparts and colleagues are so critical for information-sharing and understanding the scope of our COVID-19 related practices on a provincial scale.
The Director’s Leadership Team (DLT) met on Friday morning via a live stream and we shared a number of important updates from each of Horizon’s service areas. Our DLT meetings are so important to share information with our Principals and Vice Principals, to get their feedback, and to answer questions. Currently, with so much changing and so many new processes for our daily operations, it is critical to have a regular, open dialogue with our school administrators. I appreciate the engagement from all members of the DLT, and the time dedicated to this important work.
Last Friday marked 19 years since 9/11. As captured on the wall of the monument erected to honour those who were lost to our world, “No day shall erase you from the memory of time”. It is hard to believe that so much time has passed, and although our students were not yet born when this tragedy occurred, it certainly has impacted their world to this day. As we live through another historic crisis in the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to look back on the lessons we have taken from our past and work together to educate and to learn for a much better future. It takes each of us, a small group of passionate educators and support staff members within Horizon who can help to make a difference. As the saying goes, "A small group of thoughtful people can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has".
Have a great week. Stay safe and strong, Horizon.
Kevin C. Garinger B.Ed., M.A.Ed.
Director of Education/CEO
Horizon School Division No. 205